Basketball Etiquette – How to End a Game with Class, and Other Unwritten Basketball Rules

Pay attention… Cause I’m only gonna say it once.  If the NBA can “respect the game” and the winning team dribbles out the clock in the final seconds, then the same level of respect should definitely apply at lower levels. 

Closing a basketball game with respect is a top ten unwritten rule of sports.. It’s respectful to players, and most importantly to the game…. And It’s hated by the fans when players don’t respect the game.

In North American sports, “running up the score” occurs when a team continues to play in such a way as to score additional points after the outcome of the game is no longer in question and the team is assured of winning. In United States and Canada, it is considered poor sportsmanship to “run up the score” in most circumstances (exceptions are listed below); sporting alternatives include pulling out most of the team’s first string players, or calling plays designed to run out the clock (e.g., in American football, kneeling, running the ball up the middle, punting on first down).

I have seen it time and time again.  Middle School Teams, High School teams (Even in Christian leagues), and Some College Teams.  Teams with insurmountable leads continue to press, run fast breaks and run up the score…  It’s sad. It’s disrespectful to the game.  If they don’t do it in the NBA then why do it in lower level leagues?

So, I have an even harder time understanding when a coach at a YMCA basketball game doesn’t follow the ettiqutte practiced by the top professionals in the game….  In a recent blowout…. his team has a 13 point lead with 35 seconds on the clock, they are still running a full court press and then steal an inbound pass under the opponents hoop?  Really?  What’s the point? 2 more points? Then double teaming and practically fouling a player on the losing team while he is taking a half court with less than a second to play?  Not only does this seem to break the ethics of basketball, but is it congruent with the philosophies of that organization?

The Ethic of Reciprocity — often called the Golden Rule in Christianity — simply states that we are to treat other people as we would wish to be treated ourselves.  Almost all organized religions have such an ethic. It is normally intended to apply to the entire human race. The YMCA states on their national website on the bottom of every page: “The YMCA is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to put Christian principles into practice through programs that build healthy spirit, mind and body for all.”   It surely would fall into “putting Christian principles into practice” to coach and develop players to handle themselves appropriately when their teams have an insurmountable lead.

Basketball has 3 well known “unwritten rules” based on the same ethic of reciprocity..

1.  Never pad your stats.  For example, a player shouldn’t shoot threes late in a game where his team is up big just so he can beat the record for the most threes in a game.  A player shouldn’t intentionally miss a shot so he can get the rebound a have a triple-double for the game.  A player shouldn’t pass up wide open shots because he trying to break an assists record.  These are examples of padding your stats intentionally.

2.  Never shoot a last second shot if your team is ahead big.  This is just considered unsportsmanlike.  Usually at the end of a lopsided game, if the winning team has the ball for the last possession, the losing team won’t even bother to guard the offensive players.  This is a sign that the losing team has conceded the game.  At this time, the player with the ball should just dribble the ball and run out the clock.

3.  Never press a team that you are beating soundly.  Even if you are a team that likes to run the full-court press, you should not do it when the game is strongly in your favor.   It is just not proper to do.


I’m not saying that in a blowout you should tell your players to “stop” playing.. but here’s some ways to handle a lopsided game…

First Half – No change – play your game and build as big a lead as you want.

Second Half (when you know that the lead is insurmountable).  Yes this requires a subjective judgment call.  But clearly with under a minute to play and a greater than 10 point lead, you can easily make that judgment.  NBA teams might be able to recover a 4 possession deficit in 60 seconds but most High school and lower level teams do not stand a chance. So end the game with some class.


Top  List of Good Strategies & Solutions

Substitution Patterns

1. Get the starters out as soon as you realize that the lead is insurmountable.
2. Experiment with players in different spots. Put the big guys outside and vice versa. It will limit their effectiveness and they will enjoy it.


Defensive Strategies


1. Kill the press

2. No full court, no half court, no double teams, no corner traps


Man to Man

1. Fall back – no defender plays tight on the ball or their man outside the three-point arc.

2. Quickly adjust your match-ups. Take best defenders off the opponent’s ball handlers.

3. No traps – no pressure.



1.   1-3-1: Forget it. Puts too much pressure on passing lanes.

2.   3- 2: If you must play 3-2 make sure outside defenders do not contest perimeter passes. Keep top man in foul line area; allow the ball to be reversed from side to side.

3.   2-3: The best bet is a flat 2-3 zone. Keep the best defenders on the baseline.


Offensive Strategies

Fast Break

1.Drop it. Instruct team to pass it to the point guard every time they get a defensive rebound. Tell point guard to walk it up the court.


Half-Court Offense

1.Set the minimum number of passes before a shot is allowed.

2.Call plays that you usually run against a different defense.


Offensive Rebounding

1. Tell two best rebounders to get back on defense – don’t crash.

2. If you do get an offensive rebound – bring it out – reset the offense.


Some great resources:

Running up the score – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

RealClearSports – Top 10 Unwritten Rules of Sport – Don’t Shoot As Time Expires

Versions of the Golden Rule in 21 world religions

Unwritten Rules Of Basketball

Leave a Reply